The Case for the American Road Trip

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Andrew McCarthy’s book, “The Longest Way Home,” is one of my favorites by a travel writer.

A few years ago, I read Andrew McCarthy’s piece entitled U.S. Road Trips: Into the Heart of America, and I couldn’t agree with him more about getting into your car and going. He begins the piece with this sentence:

There’s nothing wrong that a hundred bucks and a full tank of gas can’t fix.

I heartily agree, Mr. McCarthy.

One of the most special things about taking road trips, in my humble opinion, is not just getting there and seeing what you want to see, but also the ability to get lost and see what you didn’t expect to see. That’s it in a nutshell. Sometimes the best surprises, or those things that have the most impact or create the best memories, are the things you didn’t expect to stumble upon.

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Gotta love a hidden treasure with great prices and delicious food.

Take, for example, Mariachi’s restaurant, in Manning, South Carolina. My family and I set out for Savannah, Georgia, last year before we vacationed in Hilton Head. As we were driving, we all became hungry, and we stumbled upon this hidden gem of a restaurant off of I-95. You can get a dinner special for $3.99 all the way up until 4 p.m. I mean, that is a crazy deal! We don’t have many places that have prices like that in Maryland. Anyway, this place gave us lots of laughs and we were all shocked at the amount of food for the price, not to mention it was some good Mexican food. So what did we do this year when we headed south? We stopped at Mariachi’s. You see? We made some memories there.

Road trips also allow you to take a wrong turn and run into a beautiful street, waterfront property, wooded area, or a little pleasant picnic area or park. Road trips offer you choices: you can stop, get your butt out of the car and see what you’ve encountered, or you can drive right through it. The best part about this decision making is that you’re at the wheel and the choices are yours.

Life is all about choices, after all, isn’t it?

I love finding hidden gems, and sometimes, as we’ve done for last few vacations, we’ve tied into the trip a visit to a small town I’ve read about over the years in travel magazines. What good is reading about a place if you don’t get off your duff and go see it?

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Bumped into this gem in Beaufort, SC.

Road trips allow you imaginative freedom that we all need sometimes from work, from responsibilities, and from life in general. Roll down the windows, put your favorite music on, and allow the road to guide you.

You just may be delighted by what you discover.

Stephanie Verni is Professor of Business Communication at Stevenson University and is the author of Inn Significant, Baseball Girl, and Beneath the Mimosa Tree. Along with her colleagues Leeanne Bell McManus and Chip Rouse, she is a co-author of Event Planning: Communicating Theory and Practice, published by Kendall-Hunt.

The (Obnoxious) Kid on the Plane

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It’s a prayer all of us have sent up at some point in our lives: Please, God, don’t let the small, rambunctious kid sit near me on the plane.

Sometimes prayers get answered.

Sometimes, they don’t.

Don’t get me wrong, I love children, especially my own more than others, but when I’m packed in like a sardine on my way to a pleasant vacation—or even worse, on my way home from a pleasant vacation—the last thing I want is a fussy, crying, obnoxious kid sitting next to me on my journey from which there is no escape until we land. I already come to the journey on an airplane with a touch of claustrophobia each time I buckle the lap belt, recognize that there’s no getting off no matter what, and carefully consider whether or not to fight for an armrest. Truthfully, I’m not a fan of confinement, even if it’s taking me to or from a splendid place. In nonverbal communication, we call the study of the spatial requirements that affect human interaction and behavior proxemics, and quite frankly, I need all the personal space I can get to ward off anxiety.

So, what happened was this: I saw the kid coming and sent the prayer up.

Now, make no mistake—I’m not mad at God, because I know how busy He can be and completely understand the magnitude and quantity of other pressing requests and matters that must take precedence over mine. But at least give me brownie points for trying.

I had spotted the family earlier in the airport as we waited at the terminal, but we boarded before they did. I sensed that there might be a disturbance in the force, as the kid seemed to be a handful. Along with my husband and kids, we said hello to the pilot, scooted down the aisle, found our spot, and settled in.

Just as we were all positioning ourselves and getting comfortable, I looked up and saw that family heading straight for us.

Low and behold, the family sat directly in front of me with the kid, while the grandmother was seated across from them on the aisle seat. I tried to stay positive and hope for the best. Honestly, I did.

However, for the entire two-hour trip, the kid was passed back and forth from mother to father and over to the grandmother. The kid fussed, cried, screamed, wanted food, didn’t want food, wanted a drink, didn’t want a drink, and threw his blanket and toys into the aisle in a fervent fit of madness. I’m guessing he was between the ages of two and three—and he brilliantly manipulated all three of the adults like a pro. When he didn’t get his way, he demonstrated one of the most sensational temper tantrums I’ve ever witnessed with a high-pitched squeal that made the hairs on your arms go straight up. The entire plane was treated to the kid’s soprano voice, and I noticed the flight attendants, after trying to help, share worrisome glances as they tried to keep their distance from him as much as possible.

Who could blame them? I wanted to do the same. In fact, I almost offered to help the flight attendants pass out peanuts so I could escape the extraordinary octave the kid was capable of reaching (watch out Mariah Carey—he’s coming after your notes).

Needless to say, when we touched down, my anxiety level was at a 12 on a scale of 10. So much for the relaxing flight home from a fantastic vacation.

Moreover, if I’m not mistaken, I think I heard a rumble from the passengers of glee along with a quiet show of applause that we were soon to be…

Free.

15781589_865992106837911_1585157622209528074_nStephanie Verni is Professor of Business Communication at Stevenson University and is the author of Inn Significant, Baseball Girl, and Beneath the Mimosa Tree. Along with her colleagues Leeanne Bell McManus and Chip Rouse, she is a co-author of Event Planning: Communicating Theory and Practice, published by Kendall-Hunt.

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Annapolis Through A Historic Lens

When I get a few hours of free time and I happen to be feeling inspired, I grab my camera and go. While I have photographed Annapolis several times (and it happens to be my hometown), most often it’s been from the viewpoint of characters in my first novel, Beneath the Mimosa Tree. When I write, I tend to use photographs to help me describe settings, places, clothing, and sometimes, even people. Yesterday, however, I wanted to capture some of the historic spots in our great little city. Just because.

Here’s what I captured.

15781589_865992106837911_1585157622209528074_nStephanie Verni is Professor of Business Communication at Stevenson University and is the author of Inn Significant, Baseball Girl, and Beneath the Mimosa Tree. Along with her colleagues Leeanne Bell McManus and Chip Rouse, she is a co-author of Event Planning: Communicating Theory and Practice, published by Kendall-Hunt.

When Are You The Happiest? Part One

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I think that we can all confirm the obvious—we work a lot. Here, in the United States, we work many, many hours, whether those hours are at work, outside work, in the classroom, outside the classroom, attending meetings and conferences, or attending other notable business-related practices as needed, when needed. I never realized how much we worked—truly—until I sat on the edge of the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, Italy, on the River Arno with my husband. We had purchased fresh Prosciutto, mozzarella, olives, roasted red peppers, and bread, and made ourselves a little picnic as we watched people close up shops for the afternoon siesta. I believe the words I said that day went something like this: “What the hell are we doing wrong? We work too much.”

In those days, I was working in baseball, and I spent as many as 80 hours a week promoting the game in Baltimore with the Orioles. The crazy thing was that I loved my job. I loved it so much that it didn’t feel like work. At all.

That was, until we went to Italy.

Since then, my perception on life has changed a great deal. My husband and I did not have children at the time of our work/life epiphany on the Arno, and now we have two who are in high school. Soon, my son will be off to college. Time flies, my friends, and we need to make sure we are leaving room to be the happiest we can be. It sounds crazy, doesn’t it? That we have to “pencil in” time to be happy?

Which leads me to my question: When are YOU the happiest?

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I have an app on my phone that I refuse to delete. It’s the Universal Studios app (and if you are on your way to Orlando, you may want to use this app—it tells you exactly how long the wait is for each attraction at Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure.) My kids think it’s funny that I have kept the app on my phone two months after our trip. Maybe it’s a little nutty, but I like to periodically check (in moments of pure boredom) to see how long the wait is at my favorite rides. It’s funny, but it harkens back to that idea of being happy. We were all truly happy in Florida at that park. We had fun. We had together time. We enjoyed each other’s company and made memories. And my husband and I did not think about work. We were on vacation. We “penciled it in.”

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Think about the times you have enjoyed the simple splendor of just being with those you love. Maybe it wasn’t during a vacation; maybe it was watching the Super Bowl, making cookies, or sitting by the pool in the summer. Maybe it was giving birth (if that’s so, more power to you; I love my kids, but the process of delivery…whoa…another story)…or celebrating a family milestone. Whatever it is, you are remembering the moment because it made you feel happy.

What I find, personally, when I ask myself this question, is that my happiness is often tied to being completely and unequivocally relaxed. We tend to be the happiest when there are no worries hijacking our brains.

My happiest moments have been spent with family, on vacation, being together, doing things that make life interesting and special, whether that was in the Outer Banks, Napa, Florida, Ocean City, Bethany Beach, Aruba, London, or Italy. Sometimes it may even be right there in our own back yards.

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I yearn for more of that. We all do.

Happiness may not be tied to a place, really, though some places are simply spectacular. More often, happiness is tied to the people we were with when we were at that place, at that time, surrounded by love.

Think about it. Can you answer?

When are you the happiest?

It’s not a trick question.

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imageStephanie Verni is Professor of Business Communication at Stevenson University and is the author of the newly released Inn Significant, Baseball Girl, and Beneath the Mimosa Tree. Along with her colleagues Leeanne Bell McManus and Chip Rouse, she is a co-author of Event Planning: Communicating Theory and Practice, published by Kendall-Hunt.  To visit Stephanie’s Amazon Author page and see her books, click here.

 

 

 

 

Writing About Places in Fiction – Maryland’s Eastern Shore in Inn Significant

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As a writer, it’s important to research the places you may feature in your writing. I spent a ton of time walking around Annapolis, Maryland, for my first novel, Beneath the Mimosa Tree, and I did the same with the novel I launched yesterday, Inn Significant. It’s part of the fun, really. As my students in travel writing class can attest from last semester, it’s envigorating to write about a place, but there’s a trick. You have to allow yourself to be completely immersed in the place. Your writing won’t be as vibrant if you’re just a spectator. You have to become one with the place…become a local while you are there and learn what you can from observation, conversation, and getting involved.

The main character in my novel, Milly Foster, has been summoned by her parents to run their Inn on the Eastern Shore of Maryland in Oxford out of desperation—a desperate attempt to help their daughter move past the tragic death of her beloved husband. It’s a last-ditch effort to bring her back to life.

I wanted to set the story in a small and picturesque town, so my mother and I spent time there, and I went back a couple of other times to just walk the streets and talk to people.

Come on–how great is that type of research? It’s simply the best.

I gave it my all to make this work of fiction feel realistic, and I wanted to stay as true to the setting and feel of Oxford as possible. There are also jaunts to neighboring towns St. Michaels and Easton.

To help you visualize the place if you have not been, I thought I’d share some of the photographs I took this summer as I did that dastardly and taxing (ha ha) research.

I hope you enjoy Inn Significant, and as well, this little photo-essay of the places the characters visit in the novel. I’m looking forward to going back for a visit very soon.

To purchase via Amazon for Kindle, click here.

To purchase via Amazon in paperback, click here.

To purchase via Barnes & Noble for the Nook, click here (paperback version should be available later tonight).

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imageStephanie Verni is Professor of Business Communication at Stevenson University and is the author of Inn Significant, Baseball Girl, and Beneath the Mimosa Tree. Along with her colleagues Leeanne Bell McManus and Chip Rouse, she is a co-author of Event Planning: Communicating Theory and Practice, published by Kendall-Hunt.

 

About the Inn Significant: A Novel

Two years after receiving the horrifying news of her husband Gil’s death, Milly Foster continues to struggle to find her way out of a state of depression. As a last-ditch effort and means of intervention, Milly’s parents convince her to run their successful Inn during their absence as they help a friend establish a new bed and breakfast in Ireland. Milly reluctantly agrees; when she arrives at the picturesque, waterfront Inn Significant, her colleague, John, discovers a journal written by her late grandmother that contains a secret her grandmother kept from the family. Reading her grandmother’s words, and being able to identify with her Nana’s own feelings of loss, sparks the beginning of Milly’s climb out of the darkness and back to the land of the living.

OXFORD, MARYLAND

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EASTON, MARYLAND

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ST. MICHAELS, MARYLAND

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Home Inspiration: How To Display Collections From Your Travels

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This tree in our dining room is filled with ornaments from our travels. The ornament in the middle is our prized possession: Santa on a gondelier made of Murano glass from Italy. The one on the left is one of our newest from our trip to Savannah, Georgia this year. The fishing boat is from Cape Cod.

Traveling is one of the best gifts you can give yourself and your loved ones. Experiencing things together builds memories that you all will cherish forever. No one can take those remarkable moments from you. There are some places, however, that you visit whereby you may want to bring home a physical remembrance of the place. In those instances, items may collect in your home in a pile unless you know exactly how you will display or use them.

My husband and I don’t mind having things from our trips as long as we know exactly what we will do with them and that they won’t just sit in a box. Here are some ideas to help inspire you to think about what you can do with your travel collections.

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Coffee table books | As a lover of ALL KINDS OF BOOKS, this coffee table book of Rome is gorgeous. It’s 360 degrees of Rome, and such a great memory jogger if you haven’t been back to a place in a while.
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Seashell Collection | When my kids were younger (and even sometimes now), they like to collect seashells from our trips. This collection is from our family trip to Duck, North Carolina. I display these on our porch.
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Matchbooks | If you read my first novel, Beneath the Mimosa Tree, you may remember that one of my main characters, Michael, collected matchbooks. Truth: I based that on my husband’s penchant for collecting matchbooks when we travel. It’s become more difficult over the years, as fewer people smoke and less matchbooks are being produced, but we try our best to collect them as we go. We display them in a glass bowl we got from our wedding in the foyer of our home.
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Tiny Book Shelves from Italy | These miniature bookshelves are from Venice, Italy. The man who handcrafted them sold them on the streets. We negotiated for all three, and every time I look at them, I think of walking the bridges of Italy listening to the gondoliers sing.
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Cotswolds Print Collection | My husband and I fell in LOVE with the Cotswolds in England. (If you haven’t been, think Kate Winslet’s house in The Holiday–it was filmed in the Cotswolds). We bought these prints there and had them framed when we got home. They are displayed on the wall in our piano room.
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Travel Calendar | This travel calendar was given to me as a gift from Georgia Angelos, owner of the Baltimore Orioles. She gave it to me when she knew I was going to travel. I’ve always cherished it because of our working relationship and our friendship. She was always very kind to me.
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Travel Tree | This is a better shot of all the ornaments on our travel tree. With any luck, it will continue to grow and fill up over the upcoming years.

If you happen to collect postcards from your travels, I blogged last year about what you can do with them—click here to see some great ideas for displaying postcards from travel and life.

I wish you all the best as you continue your journeys and encourage you to get a few keepsakes. Just knowing they are around my house brightens my day and reminds me that the next trip is just around the corner.

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Stephanie Verni is the author of Baseball Girl, Beneath the Mimosa Tree, and the co-author of Event Planning: Communicating Theory and Practice.

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An Eastern Shore Treasure: Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay

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As a Marylander who sometimes enjoys a quick getaway to the Eastern Shore, I recently had the privilege of once again staying at the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay Golf Resort, Spa and Marina. Situated on the banks of the Choptank River, the resort boasts 342 acres in Cambridge, Maryland. As this was my third visit as a guest—having gone once before with my husband and then again for a girls’ getaway weekend—I always forget just how large, well-maintained, and picturesque it is. Unlike some resorts, it does not have an air of superiority to it; instead, it welcomes guests with open arms and invites them to walk the trails, spend time along the waterfront at the beach area or two pools, get pampered at the spa, or play a round of golf or two at the well-designed course on site. The restaurants are lovely, and we enjoyed a delectable breakfast as we sat in a terrace room that overlooks the water. Quite simply, the resort offers guests the perfect opportunity to unwind and enjoy the splendor that surrounds them.

One special touch the resort offers guests: their own bag of neatly packed s’mores to roast by the outdoor fire.

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Stephanie Verni is the author of Baseball Girl, Beneath the Mimosa Tree, and the co-author of Event Planning: Communicating Theory and Practice.

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St. Michaels, Maryland: A Photo Essay & Setting For My New Novel

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I love the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Whenever I can steal away and spend time in one of the many adorable towns across the Chesapeake Bay, I jump at the opportunity. Saturday was just such a time. Additionally, I have a vested interest in getting a good “feel” for the place as my new novel is set primarily in Oxford, Maryland, with jaunts to St. Michaels and Easton as well. I’ve done my homework—this summer, I spent time in Oxford. I made two trips there to walk around and get a feel for the place and the people. On Saturday, I took a stroll…it was just my camera and me as I attempted to capture the essence of all it offers residents and visitors. I’m sharing my photos; despite that it was a grey day in St. Michaels, the weather can’t put a damper on the splendor and the beauty of the town.

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The picturesque town sits on the water; shopping, boating, inns, churches, and homes with white picket fences abound.

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I happened to be visiting on Saturday when the Antique Car Show was taking place.

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This is my favorite shot from the day. This is the patio of a homeowner in St. Michaels. The sign out back is something we all should remember: Life Is A Journey, Not A Destination.

I am very excited to launch my new novel in November. Every time I go back, I know I picked the right setting for the characters…and if I close my eyes sometimes, I can imagine them walking these beautiful streets.

The Friday Random Thoughts Roundup

I haven’t been blogging much lately, and I’m feeling badly about it. I’ve been incredibly busy with two kids in high school, teaching at the university, volunteering for things, and serving on committees, in addition to actually trying to fit my new mentality of health and fitness into my daily regime. I wish I could write an insightful, meaningful post right now, but all I have time for is a quick roundup of random thoughts and things I want to share with you.

So here it goes…

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  1. I finally got around to watching the movie Me Before You last weekend which was based on the book by JoJo Moyes. I always say the book is better than the movie in almost every instance, and this will be no different. However, I will tell you that the movie did an excellent job of capturing the essence of the book and offered a clear understanding of the novel. I think that the cast was perfect. I loved both of the main characters who were portrayed by Emilia Clarke and Sam Claflin. There was good chemistry between them, and if I were the author of the book and I watched the film, I’d be pretty pleased that the director didn’t take too many liberties with my original story. Grab a tissue and watch it if you haven’t already. I don’t think you’ll be too disappointed. (And I’m saying this as someone who LOVED that book and would put it on a list of favorites).
  2. If you’re ever on a tight timetable to arrive somewhere by car, you will inevitably get  stuck behind every law-abiding citizen who prides himself on doing the actual speed limit. Yesterday, en route to a few engagements, every single time I got behind the wheel, I found myself behind the slowest drivers on the planet.
  3. I’ve been exercising regularly now since the end of May. I’ve lost quite a bit of weight and feel better. It’s amazing what a little self-discipline and determination can do for you.
  4. Yesterday, during a lecture in Feature Writing, we all decided that we were going to be word artists. If you think of writing as an art, and consider yourself someone who is crafting prose on the page, thinking about it in the same way an artist thinks about brush strokes is helpful. We should always care what goes into our writing and not be bashful about taking things out. Artists don’t leave things in that shouldn’t be there. We are word artists. I love that.artist
  5. Every time I get together with my Fabulous Friday Travel Writing Class it makes me want to go somewhere, experience it, and write about it. I love writing fiction, but can you imagine how fantabulous it would be to write about travel for a living? Um, yes, I’ll have a slice of that pie and a ticket to anywhere. (This by no means is suggesting that I don’t love my job as a professor; I consider it the best profession in the world. Travel writing might be a close second, or novel writing, or designing clothes…)
  6. As I’m combing through the novel I wrote this summer and making my final edits, I’m always amazed by two things: (1) How much I change as I edit, and (2) How what I’ve written always changes me. That’s the thing about writing: it’s often transformational. My new book should be ready by late October.
  7. I love this quote: I’VE THOUGHT ABOUT RUNNING AWAY AS AN ADULT MORE THAN I EVER DID AS A KID. Remember when summer days were spent outside and nights were spent catching fireflies? Remember thinking summer was long and exciting? Remember watching Little House on the Prairie and The Love Boat? If you do, you’re most likely from my era of childhood, when our primary responsibility was to enjoy ourselves. Nowadays, we’ve got grown up responsibilities. I hope the kids of today try to enjoy their childhoods. There’s no need to grow up so fast.

Really.

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Stephanie Verni is the author of Baseball Girl, Beneath the Mimosa Tree, and the co-author of Event Planning: Communicating Theory and Practice.

Feel free to connect on Instagram @stephverni or on Twitter @stephverni.

 

 

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Savannah in Pictures

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Let’s get the first thing out of the way: Yes, Savannah in June and July is H-O-T. To my fellow Marylanders: the humidity in our area ain’t nothing compared to the humidity in the South. It blows ours away. If your hair is anything like mine, you can count on it being out of control during a summer tour of Savannah, Georgia. In fact, one hair stylist, upon seeing the condition of my hair, recommended that I get a Brazilian blowout.

Speaking of tours, we thoroughly enjoyed our two-hour walking tour with Savannah Dan. He’s theatrical and full of knowledge about the history of his city. You’ll learn all about the squares, the ghosts of Savannah, and why The Olde Pink House is pink (yes, there’s a story there). We enjoyed a tour of the Owens-Thomas House with a lovely docent from the U.K.

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Savannah Dan

The highlight of our daughter’s visit to Savannah was playing the piano in the piano bar at The Olde Pink House. In between the pianist’s sets, my daughter was invited to play the piano—and she received a big applause from the crowd and lots of encouragement from the musicians in the place. It was a real thrill for her, and one she won’t soon forget.

As far as the food goes, you will not be disappointed. Savannah was ranked one of the Top 17 cities for food by Zagat in 2015. You won’t want to miss out on some good old fashioned cheesy shrimp and grits, and Leopold’s Ice Cream was ranked in the Top 5 in the world by the Tribune Media Service.

The streets are charming, as you will see in my photographs. If you enjoy touring tree-lined streets with Spanish moss, a beautiful, historic waterfront, and picturesque park squares filled with American history, Savannah just may be your next destination.

I’ll stop writing now and just show you SAVANNAH IN PICTURES.

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Breathing In the Air and Tasting the Wines in Napa Valley | Part Two

 

DSC_0725(This is part two of my travel piece about Napa Valley and San Francisco. To read part one, click here).

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Besides the abundance of wineries, there are some picturesque towns that are definitely worthy of a visit. Napa was our first stop. Perched on the Napa River, the town offers adorable shopping, great restaurants, wine bars, and views worthy of your best camera. We ate at Bounty Hunter Wine Bar and Smokin’ BBQ, a restaurant/bar that was highly recommended to us, and my husband touted that meal he downed in mere seconds was one of the best barbecue sandwiches he had ever eaten. Additionally, we sat at group tables, and we made friends with the couple next to us who were celebrating the husband’s birthday. We ended up sharing appetizers, glasses of wine, and good conversation the whole time.

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DSC_0701As we strolled, we took a walk across the Napa River and saw the Napa Valley Wine Train coming back from its day out. Noted as a restaurant on rails, this train takes passengers through the valley to enjoy a scenic tour while eating and drinking aboard. While we didn’t get to enjoy this experience, it would be on my list of things to do at some point when we return to Napa Valley. The conductor stopped the train for its passengers to disembark (or maybe they had so much fun they stumbled off?), and chatted with us, proudly explaining the train’s route and how reservations book up quickly.

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DSC_0721Across the river is the Oxbow Market area. It’s worth the short walk into this small section of Napa. The Oxbow Public Market itself is clean and full of food and merchandise vendors. We bought a fresh loaf of bread that tasted exactly as it should—hard on the outside, soft on the inside. On the bridge, we took photos because we couldn’t help but to just stop and look wherever we went. All around us, the views were stunning.

Yountville, a town north of Napa off 29, was our favorite. Nestled among the hills, Yountville is known as the “Culinary Capital of Napa Valley.” I can certainly vouch for this slogan with regard to the restaurant Bottega, celebrity chef Michael Chiarello’s goldmine in Yountville. As someone who is an America with Italian heritage (both of my parents are of Italian decent), and someone who has eaten her fair share of pasta here and in Italy, I am not stretching the truth when I tell you that the plate of pasta I savored at Bottega was probably the best pasta dish I have ever eaten. The homemade pasta combined with the delicate red sauce was outstanding. Also, the bread with olive oil was unlike any my husband and I have ever eaten—the olive oil dipping sauce was filled Parmesan cheese, along with fresh herbs, thrown in to make it even tastier. We asked for a second serving.

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DSC_0945The streets of Yountville look as if they are staged from a film set. Window boxes full of vibrant flowers dress up the shops; vines grow against brick restaurant buildings to add character and charm; and little gardens—some decorated with art—grace this town and make it something to treasure.

  
One afternoon, after exploring quite a bit of Napa Valley, we headed to Sonoma Valley, just over the ridge. It was my idea to venture over there and get a taste of it, only because—well, quite frankly—I wanted to be able to say I’d visited both places. We stopped in Sonoma at the square and walked around. Sonoma definitely has a different vibe than Napa Valley; it’s a little more relaxed, and its look is completely different. Infused with almost a Mexican-meets-Western flair, this postcard town is adorable, but in a completely different way. When we asked a local if it’s true whether there is a rivalry between Napa and Sonoma Valleys, he said there was, but that it is a very friendly rivalry, and they enjoy the laid-back competition between the two wine producing strongholds.

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DSC_0911DSC_0904On Saturday night, we ate at Farm Restaurant, The Carneros Inn’s own first-class restaurant. Both the Hilltop Restaurant (on the hill at the Carneros Inn overlooking the vineyards) where my husband and I ate outside for breakfast two mornings in a row, and Farm showcased great menus, including a pretty remarkable French toast for the morning taste buds and delicious scallops and friend green tomatoes to satisfy the palate in the evening. And, of course, there was a tremendous selection of the Valley’s great wines from which to choose to go along with anything on the table.

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DSC_0877Truth be told, both my husband and I love to travel and experience new places, sights, and people, however, with teenage children, it’s tough to get away by ourselves and go on a trip like this. In fact, it’s a rarity. Luckily, we have loving grandparents who come in and save the day which allowed us the opportunity to get away. Our travel bucket list is filled with places we want to go and explore, and now, we can cross Napa Valley off of our list. However, this does not mean we do not want to return. In fact, it’s a place I could see myself coming back to again and again, if only to just cleanse my lungs with that amazing sense of fresh air and power  down enough to allow me to be in the moment. In every essence, we truly did stop and smell the roses.

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Breathing in the Air and Tasting The Wines in Napa Valley

DSC_0808First, there was the air, consistently devoid of humidity according the locals, and as fresh and crisp as you would imagine the hills and unspoiled land of Northern California to be. Puffs of soft clouds decorated the blue sky as temperatures hovered in the high sixties. Then, there was the scenery. The rolling greens of the mountains lulled you in sweetly, beckoning you to stop what you’re doing, forget your watch, and stay a while. Rows and rows of meticulously placed and aligned grape vines grow upwards on the mountains as striking winery after winery welcome and encourage you to come and taste what has been made on the premises from their own incredible natural resources. The varieties and abundance of roses in almost every shade from passion pink to love-struck red to bright snow white add the cherry-on-top charm to this stunning part of the United States. The breeze wraps its arms around you, and without being totally conscious of just how hypnotized you are, within minutes you are enraptured by wine country.

 

DSC_0950There is no shortage of winemakers in Napa and Sonoma Valleys. With over 2,400 wineries sprawled across the two counties, there is an abundance of alcohol being created to be shipped to a town near you stamped and branded with labels from California. If you are a movie buff or wine aficionado and have seen the film “Bottle Shock,” starring Alan Rickman and Chris Pine, you may well remember how California wine beat the wine of France in a blind taste test competition that took place in 1976. That singular event, as depicted in the film, catapulted Napa Valley wines to success and proved that French wines were not unbeatable. Additionally, rumor has it that many celebrities own vineyards, and whether they operate a working winery or simply enjoy the peaceful retreat from hectic Hollywood, the area offers much in the way of relaxation, food, wine, and recreation, not to mention the fact that some pretty spectacular homes and resorts are nestled in and among the hills.

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One such resort—the resort where my husband and I stayed for three extraordinary nights—is called The Carneros Inn, located on Sonoma Highway in Napa, California. To say it was beyond either of our expectations is an understatement. While the word “inn” may conjure up images of one building with several rooms, The Carneros Inn strays quite far from that traditional and somewhat limited definition. Replete with a gorgeous, state-of-the-art reception building, Farm Restaurant, Hilltop Restaurant, Boon Fly Café, spa, two pools with hot tubs, workout facility, country store, and views and gardens that encourage you to take leisurely strolls while simultaneously asking you to stop and smell the roses, we had never experienced a place quite like it. Our “room,” if you dare to call it that, was a small cottage with contemporary designs and hardwood floors, a dreamy bed, large bathroom, and a private patio with loungers and a table with an umbrella. The front porch, of course, boasted two white rocking chairs and a perfect vantage point for admiring the sweeping gardens that were full of vibrant colors and exotic plants, not to mention unique fountains, bountiful trellises, and bamboo canopies.

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As someone who has grown up almost her entire life living near the water—and someone who has regularly stated that living near the water is a must—I have to admit that visiting Napa Valley may have changed my perspective on this notion of mine. The landscape took my breath away—the lush canopy of olive trees, grape vines, green trees on the mountains (including a few Redwoods), and the carpet of lawns in the valley offered a sense of serenity that I did not expect to find. At times, the landscape reminded me of the topography of the Cotswolds in England or the exquisiteness of Tuscany. If you had been blindfolded and dropped there and were asked to “guess” where you were, I’m not sure I wouldn’t have said it was one of the two aforementioned landscapes (although, yes, the architecture in both may have given it away quickly; but if you guessed solely based on the landscape, who knows?).

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One of my favorite parts of the trip was taking the bikes the Inn provided and touring through the back roads. While our five mile ride was a bit hilly (only in one part in particular), touring on a bike offers a much different perspective than driving in a car and seeing the sights. My husband and I stopped to take photographs along the way as we attempted to capture the beauty of that morning’s sun, the way it graced the mountains and the vineyards, and the way the greenery glistened as the dew evaporated. I adore riding a bike—this one had a basket for our things—and I often wonder what it would be like to live in a place where you could ride your bike or walk more than you need to drive your car. We passed so many charming things—a house covered in vines with lush gardens, a picturesque barn, and a pond in the valley with views of the mountain—and our bicycle jaunt was by far my favorite part of our stay at the Inn.

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DSC_0849Our wine tours were fun and another highlight of the trip, but you must hear me clearly—I am not a wine expert. I like wine, am typically more partial to white wines over reds as the reds can sometimes give me a headache, but I am by no means any sort of a wine intellectual. That said, taking the tours of the wineries interested me because I wanted to learn more about how they make, bottle, store, and market wines. It’s an incredible undertaking and business—and most of the people or companies that own the wineries are not short on cash (if you know what I mean). Our first tour of the day was to Domaine Carneros (pictured below), which specializes in sparkling wines. We were able to see the machines they use to turn the wines in order to remove excess sweetness and sugar from the bottles before they are sent off to stores for purchase. In the early days of sparkling wine manufacturing, these bottles were hand turned; now, with incredible contemporary machinery, the wines are turned and processed all with the switch of a button. This winery was impressive; it sits on the top of the hill with the vineyards all around it, truly a majestic presence. Despite the rain that morning, Domaine Carneros was lovely.

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In the afternoon after the sun chased the clouds away, we toured Hall Winery (pictured below), which was a fantastic 90-minute tour of the grounds and facility. Our guide provided the history of the winery, the process of making wine, and at the end of the journey, we enjoyed sampling both red and white wines produced by Hall Wines. Owned by husband and wife Kathryn and Craig Hall, the duo has invested much into the property. In this modern facility, we learned about the incredible journey the grape takes from vine to bottle, as well as the sad turn a bad grape may take into the compost pile. The equipment and engineering of the grapes, from the way they are harvested to the way they are processed, is fascinating, and no detail goes unnoticed. And I’m not kidding about the rejected grape—grape profiling ensues to ensure that only the best grapes possible make it into the bottle.

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—END PART ONE—

Look for Part Two in a few days…